Au’Diese Toney, now a former Razorback, will forever be remembered as part of the undersized, scrappy bunch of Hogs who gritted their way to 28 wins and an Elite Eight finish – but also convinced Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman he needed to truly super-size his lineup.
As he heads off to prepare for the pros, Hog fans are already licking their lips at the prospect of what comes next. Guys like the 6-9 Arizona State transfer Jalen Graham tantalize the imagination with what the 2022-23 season could bring.
But before the page is all the way turned on 2021-22, it’s time to send off the 6-7 Au’Diese Toney right by considering his place among the greatest Arkansas basketball defenders ever. It’s a topic I recently discussed with former Razorback coaches Nolan Richardson and Pat Foster.
Before getting into that, let’s recap what current Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said after the 6-6 guard-forward stifled New Mexico State point guard Teddy Allen during the NCAA Tournament’s second round. Allen scored 12 points on a 5 for 16 shooting night with no free throws against Toney, a game after hanging 37 on UConn.
“From a defensive standpoint obviously Au’Diese Toney, the way that he played individually tonight was as good as any defender that I’ve ever coached,” Musselman said.
That encompasses a lot. Musselman coached 14 years in the pros in various minor leagues and the NBA including NBA head coaching the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings. He then assisted as a college coach at LSU before an ongoing combined seven years head coaching Nevada and Arkansas.
Musselman stressed Toney’s big defensive night was just one of many this season as the 6-6 guard-forward was asked to defend the opposition’s best offensive player whether a point guard, power forward or in between. In the Sweet 16 game against Gonzaga, for instance, he detonated an instant classic of a chase-down, win-preserving block on Andrew Nembhard.
“He has been great all year,” Musselman said. “He sacrifices – when you think about the energy that it takes to guard the best player every night. So it probably sacrifices some of his offense quite frankly.”
Unless in foul trouble, Toney seldom came out of a game. Against Allen and New Mexico State, Toney officially logged just 28 seconds shy of 40 minutes.
“He is a guy sometimes that I want him to rest a little bit offensively because of the energy,” Musselman said after the New Mexico State game. “Tonight’s scheme was a little more complicated. It’s a little bit how we used to play Kobe Bryant. I didn’t know if we were giving him too much. I was worried about it today at 4 o’clock. Did we try to squeeze too much in? When you demand a lot it’s amazing what people retain.”
Nolan Richardson on Au’Diese Toney
Musselman does praise with the favorable prejudice of personally coaching Toney.
Retired former Razorbacks Hall of Honor coaches Nolan Richardson, head coaching Arkansas from 1985-2002, and Pat Foster, the Arkansas top assistant from 1974-75 through 1980 for Hall of Famer Eddie Sutton before head coaching Lamar, Houston and Nevada, never coached Toney.
But they are equally impressed.
“He would fit in there with the Keith Wilsons and Lee Mayberrys and Clint McDaniel,” Naismith and College Coaches Hall of Famer Richardson said, rattling off some of his Razorbacks defensive greats. “And Eddie had some good ones. I couldn’t say he’d be the No. 1 [defender on the 2021-22 Arkansas basketball team] because there were so many that helped their team from a defensive end, but Toney certainly was one of those guys.”
Foster was asked if Toney could fit into those great teams under Sutton that included NBA Hall of Famer Sidney Moncrief, longtime NBA guards Darrell Walker and Alvin Robertson and forward stopper Jim Counce.
“Without a doubt,” Foster said. “You think of players offensively because they’ve got moves. But defensive players have their own style of doing things differently and he’s right there with the best of them.”
Foster said Toney would have fit any great Arkansas team.
Richardson more than concurs.”Absolutely so,” says Richardson, Arkansas’ all-time winningest coach piloting Arkansas’ lone basketball national championship and national runner-up.
Corey Beck was another of his defensive greats whom Richardson cited. But Beck, at 6-2, couldn’t do defensively all the things that Toney can do at 6-6.
“A small forward could take Beck down with that size and abuse him,” Richardson said. “But you certainly couldn’t do that with this young man because he has good size.”
Moncrief, Robertson, Walker, Wilson, Beck, and McDaniel were guards mostly guarding guards, and Counce a forward guarding forwards.
Moncrief, Robertson and Walker were relied upon as much or more for their offense as their defense. That likely took away from some from their defense, though they obviously excelled.
Lenzie Howell among Arkansas Basketball Greats
Lenzie Howell, a name neither Richardson nor Foster first cited, immediately lit a bulb flashing prominently when mentioned to both Arkansas ex-coaches.
A late 6-4 forward overshadowed in the Richardson era by teammates Mayberry, Todd Day and big man Oliver Miller, Howell proved as valuable as any.
The difference in the Razorbacks’ 1990 Final Four team and the Elite Eight team of 1991 quite likely was junior college transfer Howell completing his eligibility in 1990.
Howell could score when needed, like Toney. He most excelled as a physically strong, high leaper defensively playing much bigger than 6-4 yet so quick he could guard a point guard or small shooting guard. Howell played with the defensive versatility that Toney exemplifies.
“Yeah Lenzie was a big-time clutch player,” Richardson said. “If things weren’t right that kid came up with big baskets at the right time. Lenzie fits that same category that seems to come up with the big rebound, the big shot, the big block. Always big when you had to have it. And that kid (Toney), I see him in that category.”
Foster never coached Howell, who passed away in 2020, but saw enough of him to make an immediate match.
“I would say he (Howell) is as close to this kid as anybody,” Foster said. “Very similar. Sure are. His versatility is the thing that makes him great. That’s the key. He (Toney) can guard a point guard or he can guard a 4-man. He can guard 1 and 4 and he can guard 2 and 3 and that says a lot.”
Richardson went one better.
“Toney is one of those guys that can guard four positions and wouldn’t even do a bad job at times guarding a center getting the proper help,” Richardson said. “Switching from a guard to a small forward doesn’t matter to him. He’s as quick as they are and he’s probably much stronger. That makes him a unique kind of player.”
Sutton, Richardson and Musselman, of course, operated three distinctly different styles of defense.
Toney fits the bill to play any of them, Richardson and Foster assert. Literally foots it, Foster says.
“The footwork is the key here,” Foster said. “It’s very important and that’s where he absolutely shows up, his crossover steps … most of it is natural. The great players are just that way. The things they do great they just seem to have a knack for whatever it is they are great at.”
And greater if they work at it as all the aforementioned did.
“He was more like Moncrief than any of the players in our era,” Foster said. “And he would have been excellent in Nolan’s style of pressure basketball.”
All of those aforementioned fit not only as great individual defenders but as complements and complemented by solid defensive teammates.
“Two or three of them are pretty good defensive players,” Richardson said of Musselman’s 2021-2022 Elite Eight Razorbacks. “Notae was a good defensive player. He was all over the place. He tended to be a scoring machine and that’s how he got related, but he could play good defense.
And (Stanley) Umude, and (Devo) Davis does, too. He (Musselman) had guys that could cover you. So when they had bad nights shooting they made up for everything on the defensive end.”
Praise for Stanley Umude
Richardson and Foster are both enamored with Umude, the 6-6 graduate transfer forward via the University of South Dakota who joined Toney as a one-year Razorbacks starter.
“Umude is one of my favorite players,” Foster said. “He has tremendous potential.”
Offensively Toney scoring average dropped from his 14.5 junior year at Pittsburgh to 10.5 at Arkansas but as Richardson mentioned with Howell, Au’Diese Toney showed a knack for sneaking in the big basket at the pivotal time.
“Toney and Umude were silent killers on offense,” Richardson said. “Toney was more dangerous on the defensive end because he had those other guys on offense. He brings toughness and things to the game you can’t teach.”
Like when and when not to shoot.
“He plays the game on both ends of the floor,” Richardson said. “He doesn’t overshoot. He doesn’t look to take as many shots but at the same time, he’ll take his shot. He’ll play his role on offense and defense. Most of his (Musselman’s) kids did that.
Musselman said he had Toney so structured for defense that he was the lone Razorback in the rotation for whom he never called an offensive play. He’d just pick his spots as he found them.
“He’s plenty good offensively but he didn’t have the stats with this team,” Foster said. “They had so many different type of players. Everyone can’t star offensively. In that offense he wasn’t in the same position where he would do the same thing time and time again.”
Au’Diese Toney among Razorback Greats
Defensively, Toney repeated with precision no matter his opponent’s position or size.
Asked to assess an Arkansas all-defensive team from Razorbacks games witnessed from Lanny Van Eman’s last coaching season of 1973-74 through the present, I must respectfully decline.
There are too many different apples and orange styles to ascertain from Oliver Miller shot-blocking, Darrell Walker, Keith Wilson, and Alvin Robertson, Clint McDaniel and Corey Beck harassing, Jimmy Counce denying or Jaylin Williams or Isaiah Joe taking more charges than American Express.
Still, when push comes to shove and forced to consider such a team, I admit the understated likes of Au’Diese Toney and Lenzie Howell would fit somewhere.
And they would be duly recognized, Pat Foster said.
The high scorers of their times drew the most accolades, but Lenzie Howell and now Au’Diese Toney still are Razorbacks remembered.
“Arkansas fans know what defense is,” Foster said. “And they appreciate it.”